Professor of history and humanities Jan Golinski has published a new biography of the English chemist Sir Humphry Davy. In “The Experimental Self: Humphry Davy and the Making of a Man of Science” (University of Chicago Press), Golinski explores the ways in which Davy created and re-created his identity over the course of his life.
Davy (1778-1829) was the most famous British chemist of his day, known for discovering sodium, potassium, and other elements, and for inventions, including the Davy Lamp, used for mining safety. He built a career as a scientist before the profession itself even existed. Yet he was more than that.
“Davy was a glamorous individual who drew a lot of attention in his lifetime for his performances in public lectures and his writings. He was a chemist, a philosopher, a travel writer, a discoverer, and often thought of as an all-around ‘genius,’” says Golinski.
In “The Experimental Self,” Golinski sheds light on the many “selves” of Davy, arguing that Davy fashioned his identity through lifelong experimentation in selfhood.
A specialist in the history of science, Golinski is the author of “British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment” and “Making Natural Knowledge: Constructivism and the History of Science,” both published by the University of Chicago Press, and of “Science as Public Culture: Chemistry and Enlightenment in Britain, 1760-1820,” published by Cambridge University Press.